Europe’s Society Orchestra Animation!

Yup. You read it right. Another incredible find from Rob Chalfen (local archivist and itinerant Jazz historian). This one is so amazing, I could not sleep on it.

James Resse Europe was one of the first African American musicians on record and was a critical link in the transition from Ragtime to Jazz in the early part of the last century. A less well known fact is how two ragtime dancers, Irene and Vernon Castle, contributed to the development of Jazz by broadly exposing Europe’s music to white society audiences.

Reading Eileen Southern’s foundational The Music of Black Americans, it becomes clear that African American bands were the performers of choice for dance parties starting at the very beginning of the republic. Nothing much had changed by the time the Castles got back from Europe where they had been performing their diluted, African American derived Ragtime dances to society audiences in 1911-12. Upon returning to the states and hearing James Reese Europe’s unique brand of stompin’ and swerving ragtime (aka proto Jazz) in 1913, they decided to team up. This combination of high society dancers performing “cleaned up” African American derived dances to the stomp and swerve of Europe’s Society Orcestra was to become an irresistable combination. It led to national tours and the first recording of an African American Orchestra by a major record label among other important firsts.

It also led to a film reel made in 1914 called Social and Theatrical Dancing and the publication of a dance instruction book called Modern Dancing later that year. As ever, Europe’s Society Orchestra provided the music. Just a little while ago, Chalfen found the book. In it are plates of the Castles doing some of their famous dances, including the Castle Walk. In the background is Europe’s Society Orchestra.

Ever the Ragtime Quasi-Experimentalists, we realized that if we animated these plates, we could create a short film of Europe’s Society Orchestra performing in 1914. And that’s just what we did friends! While its kind of badly registered, the animation below gives you some feel for the vibe in the room. Amazingly, you can even see the fiddle player bowing. If you listen to this Europe’s Society Orchestra Castle Twofer.mp3 which contains two songs Europe wrote for the Castles around that time (“Castle House Rag – The Castle’s in Europe” and “Castle Walk”), you get an even better sense.

I hope to do more with these plates soon (like scan them properly rather than photograph them with my little digital camera). But for now, enjoy this rare look at one of the most important musical/dance combos in history.

Record stores are so 20th century

Being a data junkie, I decided to do a little more research on what appears to be a national trend in record store closings. No big surprise, but the news is not good.

Here’s a chart I made from some data I dug up in Plunkett’s Entertainment and Media Industry Almanac (Jan 17, 2002).

The chart looks at the changes in where people purchased music over the last decade of the 20th century. Notice that the trend line for record stores is dramatically down. I find it particularly interesting that the trend began well before the internet crept in in the late 1990’s. Looking at the growth of the “other stores” category, it makes me think that there are actually two intersecting trends going on. One is the general trend toward buying everything at big megastores and the other is the gradual decline of record sales generally. While much more data is required to draw any conclusions about causality, the basic trend looks pretty undeniable to me.

Luckily, none of this will affect the hardcore diggers who seem to find piles where none should exist.

Mashistory Vol. 2.: The Sour Cream Control Committee

Sorry I have been so sour of late. Let me lighten the mood with a little thing I have been thinkin about for a while. Of course, it has a Mojo connection too. So let me start there.

Bhind the counter on the wall, Mojo used to have a great collection of Whipped Cream and Other Delights knockoff records. The original Herb Albert album has become iconic among record people, partly because of its omnipresence and partly because, well, it has the super sexy picture of Dolores Erikson covered in whipped cream on the front. This is the record that is virtually guaranteed to appear in every pile of records that you ever encounter. From the sheer frequency of its appearance, it seems that everyone in the 1960’s must have had a copy (if not two). According to this chronology, not everyone bought it, but a whole lot did. In 1966, “Herb Alpert sold 13.7 million albums in a 12-month period, an unprecedented achievement.”

Perhaps as a result of its iconic status, but certainly reiforcing it, there have been innumerable delicious tags for some of the ones I found.

Mojo had all of them it seemed. All but this one. I had always wanted to give it to them, but frankly, I just couldn’t part with it. Can you blame me? Maybe you will after you hear the first track on this SourCreamControlCommitteeTwofer.mp3. It’s the signature, Alpert tune “A Taste of Honey”, but tortured and Klezmerized in a way that seems almost too perfectly terrible to be accidental. Come on, listen to that modulation again, Peter.

I follow the Sour Cream with another of my favorite Alpert mashups. This one by the Evolution Control Committee was originally released on the 1994 Gunderphonics casette and then came out on a 1996 7″ as “The Whipped Cream Mixes”. Widely regarded as one of the first A+B mashups, this bastard pop classic set the standard for genre the blending hillarity of the mashup craze to come. According to info available at ECC site, Rebel Wihtout A Pause mashes Public Enemy, “The Rhythm, The Rebel”, Prophets Of Rage EP with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, “Bittersweet Samba”, Whipped Cream and Other Delights. My favorite thing about this track is how the juxtapositon recontextualizes the “break” in Bittersweet Samba with Flav’s introduction somehow making its squareness seem super hip.

I have always wondered how they actually constructed the track. I sat with a guitar and plunked along to see if the pitch changes, and it doesn’t. That means it was not done live on two decks. They must have used some kind of editing system. Was it digital? I’d love any more info anyone finds on the method behind this madness.

Either way. I think these two tracks belong together somehow. Enjoy.

Long live the death of vinyl

As it turned out, I was a week early. Mojo survived well into the week of March 20, 2006. After lumbering along like a wounded analog Kong valiantly battling the digital biplanes, Mojo finally closed its doors on Friday, March 24, 2006. I had planned to document the moment of its official demise. But as one day bled into the next, it became clear that there was not going to be “a moment”. There were a whole series of them. Some were more hillarious than poignant, but they were all tinged with sadness and the kind of frenzy you get when there are too many records to take but the prices are too great to pass up. Here’s my haul from Day 1. Those crates are all dancehall 45’s.

I was there more often than not that last week. Luckily, I took to bringing my camera and wound up getting some great footage, along with all the wax. I also met some local dudes who had already documented two closings and are working on a movie. I’d love to see that footage, so get in touch if you read this.

Amazingly, there were still gems turning up late into that week. Several boxes of 45s from some 1980’s wedding DJ appeared. As I flipped through, I noticed Blondie’s “Rapture” because of the picture sleve. What do you think came next? Yup. Queen, “Another one bites the dust”. Having just spent a week putting together a lecture/demo on The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steels, I knew I had to look at every 45 in there. (Not to mention the double coincidence of finding “Another one bites the dust” at the Mojo sale). Even though I have both tracks, it seemed wrong to separate these old friends after so many years together. I took them both. Now they can hang together in my 45 box for another few decades.

I guess the absence of heavy diggin surprised me more than anything else. I mean, I was pulling James Brown records on King out of that pile on Tues and Wed. And new stuff seemd to titrate out all week as the final solution settled. With all that, it felt like there was less interest overall than you might expect. Even on the last day, there were Sly and Robbie picture discs on the wall. (Where did those wind up Mike?)

I was able to hang out long enough to get priceless footage of the last days of Mojo. There was the race between Billy and the Goodwill dudes cleaning out the dollar bins. There was the ubiquitous (and mysterious) Folk Man. There was the soundtrack to “How to succeed in business without really trying” in the window, right under the “going out of business” signs. There were the demolition dudes cutting up the bins themselves. I got it all on my mini DV. Witness.

it made me a little sad to see the records at Goodwill, by the time I got to the one in Davis Sq. only a few days later, 5 bins (like the ones above) had disappeared. Amazing, that with DJ culture goin strong and enough people willing to buy THREE BINS of records in as many days, its hard to make a go of it as a storefront. Yet with pressures from E-bay and other online outlets, it is inevitable. Everyone is feeling the pressure to go online. But as we do, local ecologies suffer in strange ways.

I get the sense from my travels that used record stores are closing everywhere. Either that, or becoming Amoebas. I’d be curious how the trend looks to others, but to me, it seems that the days of diggin in the new arrivals bins are limited. At least around here. Keep the faith Loony Tunes, Mystery Train, Nuggets, Cheapo and all you other wax preservationists out there.

Most of all, thanks to David, Mike and all the Mojo patrons who put up with me that last week. I am gonna miss the Mojo. Not to mention the records.